Many people would naturally associate Rembrandt with portraiture, often in dark hues of gold, brown and black. There’s no doubt that he was indeed a brilliant portrait artist. However, the most remarkable painting that I’ve seen by him is the one that grabs your attention the moment that you walk into the room in which it’s hung, in Berlin’s wonderful Gemaldegalerie. These two posts (1,2) are worth reading if you’re planning to visit.
It’s the Rape of Proserpina, which with its slash of electric blue sky upends the whole muted colour scheme that we associate with the artist. Here’s the story (taken from an excellent website analysing Bernini’s sculpture on the same theme):
In Greek mythology, Persephone (also known as Proserpina) was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter (goddess of agriculture) and was queen of the Underworld. One day while the young maiden was picking flowers, Hades, god of the underworld, kidnapped Persephone and carried her back to the underworld to be his wife. Demeter begged Zeus to command the release of her daughter, and Persephone was told that she would be released from the underworld, as long as she didn’t consume any food while she was there. But when she thought no one was looking, Persephone went into the garden and ate six pomegranate seeds. She was thus doomed to spend six months of the year with Hades, while for the other six months she could return to Earth to see her mother. The myth holds that the months Persephone spends in the underworld leave the earth cold, dark, and wintry, but when she returns, spring and summer accompany her.
And, as the website points out, ‘rape’ in this scenario usually means abduction.
The picture below is a big file, click on it to enlarge. It really is a masterpiece, in a very crowded field. Incredibly, he was only 25 when he produced it, which is a bit older than Jedward as they are now. Just extraordinary.